12 Ways to Bond with Your Family this Fall in Minneapolis-Saint Paul
Fall with the family in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro region means one thing — fun indoors and out thanks to autumn festivals, museums and outdoor adventure.
With bustling family museums, trees blazing with color and harvest festivals firing up in every corner of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro region, fall brings can’t-miss family bonding.
Fun can be found both outside and in. Look for outdoor activities to relish the sunniest stretches of the season at area farms, trails and fishing piers. Or duck indoors to enjoy weatherproof attractions such as the University of Minnesota’s newly expanded Bell Museum, the state’s official natural history museum.
Since we all act like we’re on vacation, here’s a guide for where to go with toddlers to teens for an afternoon or a long weekend that lets you sneak in a little learning (Shh, we won’t tell):
1. Head to a Farm
Feed goats, gobble at turkeys and enjoy the pigs and lambs at public working farms tucked into the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro region. Gale Woods Farm sits on 410 acres along Minnetrista’s Whaletail Lake. Arrive early and you might be able to shop for fresh produce from its gardens. In Saint Paul, costumed interpreters at Gibbs Farm offer weekend tours of this pioneer farm site that also includes a one-room schoolhouse, a sod-and-log house, a barn filled with animals, and a Dakota tipi, bark lodge and native gardens.
2. Catch a ‘Sunny’ Off a Pier
Borrow fishing equipment from Lebanon Hills Regional Park’s visitor center to drop a line and catch sunfish from the fishing pier at Holland Lake. The almost 2,000-acre Eagan park also includes canoe and tandem kayak rentals, stand-up paddleboards and trails for hiking and mountain biking. Another option: Head to Minnesota state parks like Afton State Park in Hastings, Fort Snelling in Saint Paul and Interstate State Park at Taylors Falls along the St. Croix River. All of them lend out free fishing kits and don’t require a fishing license if you’re within park boundaries.
3. Take a River Valley Hike
Check out the 14,000-acre Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge for great views of fall colors as it stretches through the metro region. A visitor center near Bloomington’s Mall of America and another in Carver have tips on where to go for the best hikes and the best spots to watch for birds that gather for migration and follow the Mississippi River Flyway to southern states.
Pine Bend Bluffs Scientific and Natural Area along the Mississippi River Trail in Inner Grove Heights yields beautiful views of the Mississippi River Valley. Plus, a new trail head facility just opened this spring complete with restrooms, water, a fix-it station for bikes and further interpretive information.
4. Head Onto a Scenic River Ride
Take a fall color tour on riverboats that cruise the St. Croix in Stillwater or the Mississippi in Saint Paul. Feeling more adventurous? Paddle Share rents kayaks for treks along the Mississippi River, including a 4.5-mile paddle from Brooklyn Park’s River Park to Minneapolis’ North Mississippi Regional Park.
5. Travel the Mississippi (Indoors)
Look for turtles, freshwater fish, alligators and more on a multi-story trip at SEA LIFE Aquarium at Mall of America that begins with a simulation of Minnesota’s Mississippi River headwaters. The journey continues to the Louisiana bayous and Gulf of Mexico and into colorful saltwater reefs and ocean depths with sea turtles, sharks and a chance to touch and feed stingrays and watch jellies pulse through colorfully lit tanks.
6. Say Hello to the Mammoth
Stand beneath a towering and curvy-tusked shaggy mammoth, listen to the vocal sounds of black bears, and explore the texture of fur, weight of bones and structure of feathers in touch-and-feel areas at the newly expanded and relocated Bell Museum in Saint Paul. Don’t miss the world-renowned wildlife dioramas, a new planetarium and outdoor learning landscape.
7. Escape from Mars (or Prison)
Plan a prison break, pull off a heist, rescue an intergalactic mission or make your way out of a mine at The Escape Game at Mall of America. Ideal for tweens, teens and adults, it requires code cracking, puzzle solving and rampant curiosity to figure out the clues, team up and escape themed rooms within 60 minutes.
8. Find Sudsy Fun at the Children’s Museum
Prepare to get a little wet with suds, bubbles and sprayers in a wacky car wash station at Saint Paul’s Minnesota Children’s Museum, which caters to kids from crawlers to 12-year-olds brimming with curiosity. Other areas and exhibits explore science with air-powered ball launchers, test physical skills with laser mazes and climbing walls, and fuel young imaginations with a miniature city.
9. Use Your Brain, Leave Inspired
Challenge a kid to a game of Mindball using brain waves, watch a movie on what inspired the story of Frankenstein and learn about the best Minnesota-made medical inventions. You can also dive into hands-on exhibits inspired by electricity and cool innovations at the Bakken Museum, located in a mansion along Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) in Minneapolis.
10. Bite Into Minnesota’s Tastiest Apples
Crunch into one of Minnesota’s legendary apple varieties, such as Honeycrisp, tangy SweeTango or the hot new First Kiss, developed at the University of Minnesota. The AppleHouse in Chanhassen lets you try what’s ripe among more than 50 varieties from late August through the frost.
Take your pick among many other scenic orchards and u-pick farms, including Hastings’ Afton Apple Orchard, White Bear Lake’s Pine Tree Orchard, Waconia’s Deardorff Orchards, Minnetrista’s Minnetonka Orchards, Luceline Orchard in Watertown and Applewood Orchard in Lakeville. Most have additional activities, such as hayrides and picking out pumpkins for families who want to make a day of it.
11. Tackle a Maze
Sever’s Fall Festival in Shakopee boasts the second-oldest corn maze in the United States and rolls out an “Under the Sea” theme for 2018. Come for this marvel of a maze but linger for a busy day of everything else: tasting apples, picking pumpkins, jumping giant pillows, crawling in a dried corn pit, feeding a giraffe, getting lost in strawbale mazes, and taking in wildlife shows, pig races and magic shows.
Visit Brooklyn Park in the Minneapolis Northwest region in order to test your navigational skills in the state’s largest corn maze at the Twin Cities Harvest Festival & Maze. The giant corn maze also offers trivia and a scavenger hunt for the extra ambitious, plus there’s a petting zoo, pumpkin patch, hayrides, giant slide and a corn pit perfect for diving in.
12. Joust Do It
Anyone pining for the Minnesota State Fair’s on-a-stick food fest, live animals and goofy games can keep the fun going with the time-trippy Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Visitors can chat with mermaids, stroll through a fairy forest, try jousting, ride an elephant, catch a comedy or fire juggling, or listen to music. Join the merry-making weekends through September 30.